You'd think that I would eventually begin to take it as a matter of course that a WaToToM gathering would be exciting and productive and a lot of fun, but there is no evidence to support that theory. I'm now back from WaToToM #9, and just as astounded and exhilarated as I was the previous eight times. This has in part to do with where we were -- the Sleeping Lady Resort and Conference Center, with picture post-card snow under sparkling blue skies -- but much more to do with who we were. There was no one there who did not have a profound interest  in mathematics, the teaching of mathematics and the teaching of the teachers of mathematics. We are pursuing that interest in ways that are related but by no means identical, so we all have a lot to learn from each other. And we are all working in the context of the education system of the state of Washington, so we all have an interest in finding out as much as we can about that system, not to mention influencing it when appropriate and possible. Sometimes, in fact, the interest extends to influencing it even when it is not so possible, but we'll try anyway. It's a heady combination!
    On to details. Once again we had a wonderful spread of participants -- UW (Mathematics, Education, GK-12 Project and the Bothell campus), WSU, Eastern, Central (two campuses), Western, Seattle U, PLU, and a trio of community colleges, one from each of the three parts of the state. We even almost had someone from Wyoming, partly because of his interest in producing a WyToToM. Unfortunately, just short of the airport he had a close encounter of the unpleasant kind with a deer on the highway. Pete, thank goodness, was undamaged, but the same cannot be said of his car or his travel plans. Fortunately, the rest of us had no such encounters, so we arrived at the time of introductions full of enthusiasm and dinner. Everyone succeeded in finding someone they didn't know, so they could introduce each other, and around we went. Very effective way to learn what a great bunch we were.
    That was Friday evening, and we ended pretty early to fortify ourselves for a very big Saturday. Saturday started off with a warm-up game that would also have served as an ice-breaker if there had been any ice to break. It was a trial run for a game I plan to run at the teachers' lunch on Math Day, and very helpful the trial was -- let's just hope I don't replace the obscurities that got eliminated from the directions with further obscurities. Then we progressed to the serious business of the day, and thereby hangs a tale.
    When I first launched the harebrained scheme of getting folks from all over the state to get together just because they shared an interest in educating teachers, a number of people asked the highly reasonable question "What's your goal in doing this? What do you expect to come of it?" And all I could reply was "When people have that much in common, they need to be able to talk with each other." And indeed, meeting that need proved to be both satisfying and worthwhile for a couple of years. Then we got to be sufficiently well settled in and acquainted with each other to recognize that there were some issues on which we shared strong views and about which we wanted to take action. The question was what action, and how to take it. At this stage, through a combination of organizational glitches and sheer bad luck, we were going through a period of having no representation from OSPI (the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction), so we were short on guidance. As a result, we spent a few years producing carefully honed position papers that we fired off in the general direction of OSPI or the HEC (Higher Education Coordinating) board, with remarkably little apparent result. Some weren't even acknowledged. Four years ago, finally, we succeeded in bringing Bob McIntosh from OSPI to a gathering, and things began to turn around. Our letters and their direction got more focused. Even at that, though, it was a while before we had any evidence of improvement. Then in the summer of '04 we had a break-through. I got a letter indicating that the Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) was having a meeting at which they would like to have WaToToM's opinion given -- would I come and give it? I would, of course, with bells on! I wasn't convinced of the impact of what I said, but the fact of being invited was terrific. Long months passed, increasing my doubts about whether I had accomplished anything. Then last September I got a note from one Larry Lashway, who was organizing a meeting sponsored by the PESB to discuss the requirements for endorsements in mathematics at the elementary, middle and high school levels. He asked WaToToM to recommend people to take part in the discussion. Three other WaToToMites and I turned up for what proved to be a really exciting day. This was not a pro forma request -- they really wanted our views, and boy! did they get them! By the end of the day, we had put together a draft document that  pleased all of us. Since then Larry has taken that draft, formalized it a bit, and run it past a number of relevant committees. It seems to be surviving pretty much intact.
    Saturday morning of WaToToM, Larry brought in the current version of that draft, explained its origins and status to all present and gave us all another chance at some input. Sunday morning he broadened the picture a bit and discussed more about its setting and its future (hoped for) impact. Some issues are way beyond our power to have much influence -- for instance, the fact that currently the state has two endorsements, one for K-8 and one for 5-12, leaving middle school, whose needs definitely do not match those of either elementary or high school, as a perennial step child. On the other hand, part of the enforcement for any such requirement is a test, and that test (or rather, those tests) will begin to be designed as soon as the endorsement requirements are passed. There we very much hope to have some influence, so we will watch, hawk-like, for the right moment to volunteer our assistance. It's a far cry from firing position papers into the void!
    The last bit of Saturday morning was a different update, Bill Moore, who heads up the Transition Math Project came in to discuss some of the progress it has made, and its hopes and plans. That one deals with the transition from high school to college, currently a source of a fair amount of discomfort. Distressingly many a newly hatched high school graduate winds up in what used to be called remedial and is now called a developmental courses, whether at a community college or a four-year one. Not a healthy state of affairs, either for the students or the colleges. Much good work by a multitude of people has gone into shaping a document describing the mathematical desiderata for an incoming freshman, and much more work will be going into helping them be met.
    Saturday afternoon, after all of us had spent a couple of hours appreciating our glorious surroundings and/or talking, working or snoozing, we reconvened for the session that has always been the heart of a WaToToM gathering: the teacher session. In past years we have shifted from level to level, and mixed urban and suburban experiences, but since all of the teachers were  within my particular sphere, we have completely lacked the rural point of view, or in fact any teaching perspective from east of the mountains. To offset this, I cheerfully accepted an offer from Kim Vincent at WSU to find this year's teachers. Delegating proved to have been an excellent plan, as Kim came up with a fine panel of middle school teachers. One was from Pullman (experience not unlike a school close to UW, only not so massive), and the other two from rural schools, one small and one tiny. We saw some of the advantages -- the tiny school has a really cohesive faculty -- and disadvantages. In the latter category it seemed to me that there was a lot of similarity with some of the urban schools: poverty and a huge population turnover resulting from (in their case) migrant worker families. They're not even immune from gang problems. At one of the schools some of the problems were, in fact, horrific (teacher forbidden to trap a mouse or pick up its droppings for fear of offending the exterminators or the custodian), which brought into sharp focus another aspect of this particular panel: for the first time we had a panel consisting of teachers new to the classroom. They are bright, energetic and dedicated -- exactly what the teaching profession needs. I would bet that this particular threesome will have the tenacity to continue in the classroom, but it's awfully easy to see why others who also have a lot to offer burn out or just plain collapse under what they are put through.
    Saturday evening had no such worrisome overtones. That was the time for sitting around discussing what was new at each of our places since last WaToToM. Huge amounts all over the state. Enough to make you stand up and cheer even before contrasting it with what we had to say eight years ago. And way too much to give in any kind of detail here, so I will just say that exciting things are happening at two-, four- and more-year institutions in every part of the state.
    Sunday morning we have usually spent wondering about which issue there was worth throwing ourselves into. This time it was clear, so after plotting a bit about next year's WaToToM gathering we turned the floor back over to Larry Lashway and worked on gearing ourselves up for endorsements and beyond. After which we geared ourselves up to take in one more splendid meal, reluctantly parted company and headed out into the sparkling sunshine to return to our highly varied destinations.
    Next year's WaToToM's tenth. I think we need gold stars for our name tags!